The Case for Well-Being

New Dream's mission is to empower individuals, communities, and organizations to transform the ways they consume to improve well-being for people and the planet. We envision a world in which the values that enhance well-being—relationships, service to others, spending time in nature, community building, and personal growth—are the primary drivers of societal behavior, resulting in reduced consumption and a healthier planet. 

The Links Between Consumption and Well-being

There is broad agreement that material factors, in addition to a wide range of non-material factors, play an important role in determining overall human happiness and well-being. 

Based on research from communities around the world, money or financial wealth is not the most important determinant of well-being. Indeed, studies have found that people who prioritize the pursuit of wealth and material possessions experience fewer positive emotions each day and are less satisfied overall. In the United States, beyond a certain annual per capita income (which varies regionally), happiness and well-being are largely a function of non-material factors.

"Studies have found that people who prioritize the pursuit of wealth and material possessions experience fewer positive emotions each day and are less satisfied overall."

By understanding the non-material factors that determine well-being and by taking efforts to encourage action in support of these values, New Dream aims to play an important role in transforming and enhancing the world in which we live.

“More of What Matters”

Research suggests that the values that are most linked to well-being are those that direct us to have experiences that help us feel safe and secure, competent and worthy, authentic and free, and connected to others. According to psychologist Tim Kasser, author of The High Price of Materialism, these “intrinsic” values are grounded in people’s real psychological needs: intrinsic values focus on strong relationships, community-feeling, helpfulness, personal growth, and self-acceptance. 

For example, studies show that:

  • Engaging in meaningful relationships, being closely related to a community, and helping others keeps us happier and healthier, while loneliness and isolation embitter us and result in ill-health.
  • sense of belonging and a sense of purpose are at the root of happiness and well-being. Surveys show that people who focus more directly on their family, friends, and spirituality during the holidays report having a happier and more satisfying season.
  • People who adopt healthy ways of dealing with stress, such as via access to nature, tend to have better relationships, because being able to manage stress in productive ways makes it easier for others to be with them, which makes people want to help and provide support.
  • Human playfulness (in both children and adults) supports emotional well-being, good mental health, creativity, and social competence, and therefore has the potential to contribute to economic, social, and cultural development.
  • Having the freedom to pursue individual interests and a sense of control over how we devote our time enhances personal growth and therefore well-being. These values help to deepen our sense of identity (who we are, where we belong, our sense of history) and understanding, and feed our need for creation, affection, participation, and idleness.

“Less of What Doesn’t”

Research indicates that materialistic (or “extrinsic”) values are detrimental to human well-being. A common conclusion across studies is that people who strongly value the pursuit of wealth and possessions report lower psychological well-being. For examples, studies show that:

  • The pursuit of materialistic goals is associated with a variety of psychological and physical health problems. For example, the more value placed on financial wealth and material goods, regardless of income level, the higher the levels of anxiety, depression, fear, anger, sadness; the lower the levels of pleasant emotions (joy), energy, and life satisfaction; and the higher the use of substances such as cigarettes and alcohol.
  • Individuals with a strong materialistic orientation are more likely to be insecure, to engage in antisocial behavior, to have personality disorders, and to struggle in intimate relationships.
  • Materialistic values not only undermine the well-being of those who strongly hold them, but also negatively affect the health and happiness of the wider community. Consumerism tends to capitalize on feelings of insecurity in order to sell products. In a vicious cycle, successive rounds of consumption are needed to temporarily suppress feelings of unhappiness and insecurity. In the process, interpersonal relationships that contribute to a positive sense of well-being are neglected.
  • When interactions are based on materialistic values, less empathy and intimacy are present in relationships, affecting others, including the children of those with high materialistic tendencies. It is hypothesized that unmet security needs in childhood give rise to strong materialistic orientations, which are then passed on to the next generation.
  • When those in power objectify others in their pursuit of wealth and status, the wider community will be damaged. On a broader level, the health of the planet suffers as materialistic values lead individuals to consume at unsustainable and environmentally damaging rates.

New Dream's Contribution

Early on, New Dream’s messaging focused heavily on raising awareness of the negative impacts of a hyper-consumer culture on our planet and the environment. The need to raise this awareness is still urgent and continues to play a critical role in our work. However, we have broadened our approach to encompass the impact of hyper-consumerism on the well-being of people, their families, and their communities. Importantly, the same values that lead to improving individual well-being can also lead to a rethinking of consumption habits and to improved environmental sustainability.